Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 24, 2013

Sensational Snippets: Fish-Hair Woman (2012), by Merlinda Bobis

One of the most interesting awards to monitor is the Most Under-rated Book award (MUBA) set up by The Small Press Network (SPUNC)To quote its website:

The shortlisted writers represent four of the original and worthy voices to be published by independent Australian publishers in the [preceding] calendar year. These books show excellence in their genre and demonstrate quality of writing, editorial integrity, and production. They have been overlooked for other prizes and have not generated the sales they deserve for any number of reasons other than the great quality of the products.

In 2012, the inaugural MUBA shortlisted two books I’d reviewed and been very impressed by, which confirmed for me that this was an award to trust.  The shortlist that year was

The Cook went on to win the award, and I went on keeping an eye on small publishers and the MUBA.

This year, the 2013 shortlist again included two books I’d reviewed:

Merlinda Bobis MUBANow, I cheerfully admit that I was barracking for Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, not just because I had launched it myself at Readings in St Kilda, but also because I was mystified that this excellent novel had been overlooked in all the major awards.  But I also knew that any of the other books in its company would be very fine books as well.  Sue at Whispering Gums had reviewed the winner, Fish-Hair Woman by Merlinda Bobis, and so the book was in my sights even before the win, but oh dear, the state of the TBR, the commitments I’d already made and the end-of-year pressure in the day-job meant that I couldn’t accept a review copy from the delighted publishers …

Instead, I offer what I hope is an elegant compromise: a Sensational Snippet selected by the publisher!

Here’s the blurb for Fish-Hair Woman:

Fish-Hair Woman1987. The Philippine government fights a total war against insurgency. The village of Iraya is militarised. The days are violent and the nights heavy with fireflies in the river where the dead are dumped. With her twelve-metre hair, Estrella, the Fish-Hair Woman, trawls corpses from the water that tastes of lemon grass. She falls in love with the Australian Tony McIntyre who disappears in the conflict. Ten years later, his son travels to Manila to find his father.

Chapter 46 excerpt:

Three soldiers, two killed by their own guns, the third by asphyxiation. Under the berries ripening in haste: a crimson chest, a shattered groin, a snapped neck. And no moon, not even a firefly now to light the men’s frozen stare, this attempt to memorise the final tableau so they can take it to the other side. It was stingy dark in the coffee grove, a no-face night. One went by feel alone.

Listen to that night when the soldiers came to take me to the river, and how the coffee grove detained us. Tony, I want you to hear my history. I want you to know my village beyond your brief, foreign idyll into war. To know the heart of terror and grief, of love — not yours but theirs. I want to wrap you in my hair, these strands that would not stop growing into story after story, into all that I remember of my village in 1987 and the years before. Stories that can save, that can kill.

Picture this: I freed the soldier’s neck from my hair. I kept pulling back the strands, but not to save a body this time. Yes, this is my dead, I had killed him and I could not stop weeping.

Paghaya. Deep weeping. Pag-haaaa-ya. The wail is in the middle syllable. For some, a stifled exhalation; for others, a near-scream, but always the breath travels the full distance from the groin to the gut, welling up to the throat. It is a weeping that is not about this or that moment. It has a history as long as the distance covered by that breath.

Merlinda Carullo Bobis is a contemporary Philippine Australian writer and academic. She was born in Legazpi City in the Philippines province of Albay. In addition to the 2013 MUBA, she was also a finalist in the 2013 Davitt Awards for best crime and mystery books by Australian women. She teaches creative writing at the University of Wollongong, and about the creative process, she says:

Writing visits like grace. Its greatest gift is the comfort if not the joy of transformation. In an inspired moment, we almost believe that anguish can be made bearable and injustice can be overturned, because they can be named. And if we’re lucky, joy can even be multiplied a hundredfold, so we may have reserves in the cupboard for the lean times.

You can find out more at Merlinda’s website.

Merlinda Bobis’  origins in the Philippines gives me an opportunity to remind readers about the Typhoon Haiyan Appeal. This link is to Oxfam but any of the major relief agencies will be grateful for whatever you can give.

Fish-Hair WomanStaunch: Ward of the StateWhisky Charlie Foxtrot: A Novel The Hum of Concrete


  1. Thanks for the mentions Lisa. I bet all the books are great. I recently bought Smiths previous novel but like you the piles are so high … And right now I must get out to the garden.

    Love your elegant compromise!


    • *groan* It’s school stuff for me today. At least they’ve renamed the annual implementation plan a ‘work plan’ because that’s what it is, it’s meta-work, work about the work not useful work!


      • Lucky you! We’ve been gardening … I have to start Last of the Vosyachs for reading group. My suggestion. I remember you liked it. Those who’ve already read it have loved it. Whew!


        • Ah yes, you’ll have a great time discussing that, very rich in big picture issues as well as a jolly good story.
          Text sent me another one of his out of the blue: it’s called God’s Dog. Very tempted to drop everything else and read it first, but I do try to read books sent for review in some kind of order.


  2. […] 2013 MUBA: Fish-Hair Woman, see a Sensational Snippet here; […]


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: